It seems incongruous to be driving into Kibera and to see a huge sign advertising soap when most people don't have running water and the open sewers are more in evidence than toilets.
December 09, 2012
How are you planning to spend Christmas this year? Perhaps it will be with friends or family, taking time off work, preparing festive food and exchanging gifts. Last year the average UK family spent a rather scary total of £530-682 on gifts, decorations, food and drink during their celebrations, and many will have spent much more.
In Kibera, Nairobi, where our card makers live, Christmas will be rather different to the 14-day blow-out we know.
While Christmas in the West is increasingly secular, the central meaning of Christmas in Kibera is still religious - a time to celebrate the birth of Christ. On Christmas Day many residents will put on their best clothes – and maybe even have something new to wear from the second-hand clothes stalls around the settlement – and head to one of the churches within the settlement.
As with us, a special meal is a highlight of Christmas Day, but it won’t be a rich turkey dinner which requires the rest of the day to recover from. While the wealthy few might be able to afford an expensive meal, many residents of Kibera can’t afford a meal costing 50/- KES (36 pence). For them, putting food on the table means buying food using credit in the local food kiosks.
A typical menu on Christmas Day will be maize meal porridge (ugali), shredded vegetables, and maybe, for the better off, some chicken or fish. And cooking won’t be in a kitchen using a gas or electric oven – a simple outdoor stove powered by charcoal is the norm.
And while we may enjoy a glass of wine (or two) over the holidays, even simple access to water is not something people in Kibera can take for granted. As Kibera is not officially recognised as a settlement by the Kenyan Government, there is no piped water – residents, especially women and children, have to queue for hours to fill a container. For the privilege they pay two to ten times what is paid by a Nairobi resident outside the slums, and carry the water back to their houses in jerry cans.
Gifts are a highlight of Christmas for children in Europe and America, with many families spending huge amounts on toys and games. In Kibera few will be able to afford gifts, not even for children. Though this year Kipepeo Designs is using its funds to give every family an Advent calendar and a children’s book telling the story of the Nativity.
Like us, catching up with friends and family is a big part of Christmas celebration. Some residents will travel on matatu buses to go back 'up country' to visit their families in the villages they come from. For many of our card makers, this is Nyanza province in south-western Kenya. Spending time with far-away family is a precious opportunity.
So different in many ways, and yet at its heart Christmas in Kibera is familiar – a time for hope, rest and spending time with loved ones. Please spare a thought in your celebrations this year for our card makers, their families and neighbours – and wish them a happy, hopeful new year.
November 14, 2012
Fairy lights are sparkling on the high streets, supermarket shelves are groaning with rich treats, and retailers are vying with each other to have the most elaborate television campaign. Christmas adverts have become a genre of their own, the clips shared and talked about on social networks with as much enthusiasm as the latest Bond film or X-Factor performance.
For a second year John Lewis has pulled out an epic television commercial, with a tale of a snowman who ventures to the big city to buy his snowwoman beloved a Christmas gift (he picks out a pair of red gloves and a beret – sound choice).
The Power of Love, as the advert's music says, is thinking of others and their needs, and going the extra mile to do so - 'Make love your goal.'
While it’s a convenient message for retailers to make people feel better about spending lots of money in the next few weeks, it’s nevertheless potent, because it’s so close to what Christmas is about.
The message of Christmas is at the heart of Kipepeo cards too. Buying Christmas cards from us is a way to directly benefit families in one of the most impoverished urban environments on earth. Money from Kipepeo pays our 25 women card makers a regular salary, allowing them to buy food, clothes, water and fuel, pay their rent, and send their children to school.
With some charity Christmas cards, only a very small percentage of the card sales actually goes to the charity – as little as 10% in some cases. People buying Kipepeo cards can be assured that all the profit from the sale of the cards will directly benefit the women.
We are biased, of course, but we think this year’s Christmas card designs are pretty splendid, ranging from perky robins to manger scenes with a Maasai twist. All cards are produced from hand-made paper using traditional methods. The paper is made from recycled office waste and features a festive sprinkling of glitter for added twinkliness.
Each card is signed on the back by its maker. And we’ve added a QR code to the back of the card – scan it using your mobile phone and you’ll be taken to a mobile web page with the biography of the woman who made the card. It’s a nice way to bring the card buyer much closer to the card maker, 8,000 miles away.
For Kipepeo this time of year is critical to us. Most of the cards we sell in the year are in the three months leading up to Christmas, on our website, through our fabulous retailers around the UK and worldwide, through churches and by attending Christmas fairs and events in November and December.
We set ourselves the target of 9,000 Christmas cards to sell this year – that’s 3,000 more than last year. We have six weeks to do it. We need churches who will buy cards to sell, retailers who’d like to stock our cards, volunteers to help us pack and sell cards at Christmas markets, people to spread the word – oh, and, most importantly, people to buy the cards.
Will you help us by making love your goal? As we have said before, buy cards... change lives...
April 21, 2012
Can you imagine your daily commute to work being a privilege rather than an endurance test? I remember times when I’ve moaned because I’ve had to wait more than ten minutes for a bus.
I know our card makers walk miles to get to work every day not because they want to keep fit but because they have no choice, even walking through mud and sewerage when it rains.
With these women in mind, I am putting my feet on the line and walking from Brighton to London to raise money for Kipepeo Designs.
David Norton, chairman of the Kipepeo Board of Trustees, his brother John and I, as the UK project director for Kipepeo, are walking the 53 miles in May to support the charity’s work in Nairobi, Kenya. David commutes to work from Brighton to London each day - but normally by train.
And why? To make a difference to the lives of more women in Kibera. It’s easy to forget about the horrors of that area of Nairobi. It’s estimated that 700,000 people live in a little over four square kilometres, and tragically 20% of children born there will die before reaching the age of five.
Kipepeo Designs teaches poor women to make cards from recycled materials and then sells them on their behalf, giving them a regular income and the opportunity to support their families. The women are also given a healthy meal each day and are taught about money management, health and nutrition.
The card makers at Kipepeo Designs make about £5.00 per day enabling them to support their families by paying rent, buying food and sending their children to school. In Kenya this is well above the Fair Trade Foundation’s standard for a fair wage. Cards from Kipepeo Designs are fairly traded, recycled and handmade and enable people to break out of the relentless cycle of poverty.
We will leave Brighton on Friday, 18 May, and hope to arrive in London in time for work at 9.30am on Monday.
This will be a particular challenge for me, as I have been battling leukaemia since 2007, but nevertheless I am determined to go the distance.
Every time I visit Kibera and the women working at Kipepeo Designs I am reminded just how critical it is for these people to have jobs.
It is the difference between having dinner and not having dinner, being able to go to the doctor or not go to the doctor. I am hoping that more people will choose to buy cards from Kipepeo Designs so that more lives are changed.
You can give a donation at www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/kipepeo, and support the team on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kipepeodesigns. Please support us!
March 10, 2012
Great design vs. ethical provenance: which sways you more when you buy?
Earlier this week a group of people met together at The People’s Supermarket in London to talk about fairtrade and design during Fairtrade Fortnight.
Chris Haughton, an illustrator/designer from Ireland, talked about a group in Nepal who are making absolutely beautiful rugs using Chris’s digital designs. The result is fantastic, contemporary-design products made by people at Kumbeshwar, a founder member of Fair Trade Nepal. As part of that scheme employees are taught literacy and skills. In addition to providing fair wages, the project supports a school of 260 children and an orphanage with 19 children.
Meeting Chris and other designers from Central St Martins College here in London helped to confirm something I have been thinking for a while. Fair trade is fantastic and something that most of us would wholeheartedly support. However, just because something is fairly traded, it doesn’t mean we want to compromise on design, producing something that only sells because of its story rather than its own appeal and appearance.
At Kipepeo Designs we produce something that is unique – fairly traded, hand-made, recycled greetings cards. The greetings card world is huge and there is definitely room for us, but if we are going to make an impact we need to step up our game.
Our cards need to be attractive to mainstream customers – not just those looking for fairly-traded products. Our designs have happened in the past by trial and error, along with collaboration in Nairobi, rather than through the kind of structured design process which happens in commercial environments.
What if we asked illustrators and designers in the UK to produce cards using the raw materials available in Kenya – handmade paper, fabric, off-cuts of bottle tops, beads, carved bone shapes, wood and so on, that could then be replicated by the card makers in Nairobi? What if some of the elements of our cards (like the tin can designs or our bone animals) were presented in a more artful and exciting way?
Our card makers’ main concern is having a secure job and access to education leading to empowerment. In the slums the concept of greetings cards is far removed from everyday life but there is no doubt that making beautiful things is of benefit to the producers as well as the consumers. Making something of real beauty can increase their sense of achievement, as well as increase card sales.
At Kipepeo Designs we want to explore the possibilities of working with talented designers and illustrators in the UK, so that we can bring about social transformation in African slums. We’re looking for artists, art students or anyone with a creative flair to offer their ideas to help move our designs forward. If you think you fit the bill, or you have views on design and fair trade, we can’t wait to hear from you!
February 18, 2012
It's not just in the UK that things are moving fast. The Kipepeo team in Nairobi has been undergoing some exciting changes too.
After the shock of having our workshop raided by gun men last October, it's a
great relief that the card makers moved into new premises at the end of
last year. The new building is still very close to Kibera, so the card
makers can walk to work, but it is much more secure. It is a bungalow on
a plot of land which will allow for expansion.
At present the paper makers have a covered area at the back of the property, enabling them to keep out of the sun and the rain.
The designers work inside in a light, spacious room.
There is also room for an office and to display our cards so that
visitors can buy cards after they have been shown how they are made. And Patricia, our cook, is enjoying a new
February 18, 2012
This month, as you may already have noticed, we're launching our new brand and visual identity for Kipepeo.
I’m in an interesting position, as I am both the person responsible for designing the new brand
and the chairman of Kipepeo's UK Board of Trustees - so in a weird way it feels like I’m both the designer and
client. Thankfully, at Kipepeo we bounce ideas off each other all the
time, so my objectivity was maintained!
When considering the new logo there were two things central in my mind and these set the foundation for the design.
Firstly the logo has to be clear, honest, and carry a powerful message. Secondly it had to be loved by all of us, but especially by the women in Kenya because, to them, the logo is a symbol for their transformed lives.
Because Kipepeo means 'Butterfly' in Swahili and because the project is all about transformation, it was clear that we’d keep this element from the previous logo. But we thought we’d take this opportunity to redraw it, just to make it feel a little more contemporary. The butterfly is a beautiful visual reference and one familiar to everyone connected with the project.
In January this year I was at the project in Nairobi watching the
paper dry. The garden at the new premises was thronged with butterflies,
so that alone proved the case for keeping them as our symbol.
The other powerful message we wanted to convey is that unique, personal connection between the card makers and the person to whom the card is eventually given.